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Let managers know they may be held personally liable for bias

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Wendy Vivian didn't just sue her employer for racial and sexual discrimination. She went after her supervisor to hold him personally liable and the state Supreme Court gave her the green light to do so.

Vivian sued under both Title VII and the Iowa Civil Rights Act. While most federal courts have imposed no individual liability for supervisors under Title VII, Iowa's Supreme Court found key differences in the state statute.

While the federal law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate, Iowa says it's illegal for any person to discriminate. The state law also goes further by making it illegal for a person to "intentionally aid, abet, compel, or coerce" another to discriminate.

Iowa's Supreme Court notes that "courts in other states have struggled with the controversy." It explains that many states have found individuals liable because their laws refer to an "agent of the employer," which could mean supervisors or co-workers. (Vivian v. Madison, No. 191/98-849, Iowa, 1999)

Advice: Train your supervisors not to discriminate. It's not just your business on the line: It could be your home and pension. You also may want to consider extending your insurance coverage if your supervisors are at risk of being sued personally.

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